Photo Credit: redsarmy.com
On July 3, 2013, the Boston Celtics announced that they had hired Brad Stevens to become their next head coach–replacing Doc Rivers who presumably did not want to be part of the rebuilding process, and who can blame him? Rivers had coached a star-studded Celtics team from 2004 to 2013 and was fortunate enough to attain the ultimate goal (an NBA title) in 2008. However, with the team on the verge of trading long-time Celtics, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and subsequently going into full “rebuild mode,” it was time for Rivers to move on–which ultimately led to him being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a future first round pick.
Thus, Boston had officially started a new chapter in its very long, very rich history. Their new hire had been an extremely successful coach (77.2 winning percentage) who led his team to two national championship games. The “problem” was that this success hadn’t occurred at the NBA level. Instead, this occurred at a relatively small school called Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Interesting. One of the most storied professional sports franchises decided to invest in their future by bringing aboard a rookie NBA coach with a grand total of six years of head coaching experience.
Outside of those from the Butler community (who were obviously well aware of Stevens’ coaching ability), many were shocked by the hire. Was Stevens really the best choice for such a high-profile job? Well, the embedded tweet from the “Zen Master” did a decent job at silencing the early doubters out there. Last time I checked, Jackson was a pretty darn good coach, so when he talks, people tend to listen.
Stevens’ deal with the Celtics is reportedly six years, $22 million–or roughly $3.7 million per season. At Butler, Stevens made somewhere around $1.1 million per season. Though his deal with Boston is very likely back-loaded and possibly incentive-laden, let’s take the average of $3.7 million per season and run some quick numbers and provide a brief scenario. It would have taken Stevens roughly three and a half seasons at Butler to make what he made with the Celtics this season. To put it another way, his freshman recruits would have been preparing for graduation (assuming they stayed all four years, of course) by the time Stevens made what he made this season. Thus, it is economically understandable for Stevens to have left when he did.
From a coaching career standpoint, the move made perfect sense as well. This wasn’t the lowly Charlotte Bobcats calling. This was the 17-time World Champion Boston Celtics calling. The Celtics are one of the top five sports franchises in the United States, if not the world. What made the job even better? The immediate expectations were low, and the team president, Danny Ainge, publicly vowed over and over that he was committed to Stevens’ plans for the long-haul. Sounds like a dream job, doesn’t it?
Well, the 2013-2014 season was anything but a dream for Stevens and the Boston Celtics in terms of on-court performance. Despite a somewhat surprising start that peaked at a buzzer-beating victory over the Miami Heat, the season was a forgettable one for the Celtics–finishing 25-57 and 13 games back from the final playoff spot.
Despite having the fifth-worst record in the NBA and the fact that the team finished in the middle of the pack in terms of attendance, Ainge remains committed to Stevens and his vision, for now at least. Before I get too far into hypothetical-speak, let me make something very clear: I am very confident in the coaching ability of Brad Stevens, and I fully believe he will bring championship-contending success back to the Boston Celtics. This, of course, can only occur if he is provided with a better roster than the one he had this season. The fact that he mustered 25 wins out of this year’s “NBA” roster is already no small feat for the rookie head coach.
However, hypothetically speaking, let’s say the Celtics miss the playoffs again next season. At the same time, let’s say an established NBA head coach becomes available and Ainge, succumbing to the pressure of one of the most intense fan bases in the country, severs ties with Stevens to bring in a more proven coach. Let me reiterate: this is completely hypothetical, but with the pressure to win in the Boston area, especially given the sustained success of the Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins, I don’t think the possibility is too farfetched at all. If not next year, what about the year after? Or the year after that?
Thus, what would the future hold for Brad Stevens after his NBA experience with the Celtics? Depending on the timing, hundreds of NCAA head coaching jobs would immediately become available to him. At the top of the list would be schools such as Duke, Indiana, Kansas, and North Carolina just to name a few.
Well, Duke obviously has Coach K, but at 67 years old, he isn’t getting any younger and Durham, North Carolina been a popular rumored landing spot for Stevens, and this was made even more plausible with Marquette’s hiring Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski. Indiana has Tom Crean, but they would drop him for Stevens faster than the time it took the NCAA to institute free meals for division 1 student-athletes in response to Shabazz Napier saying “there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.”
UNC or KU? Roy Williams is 63, but you wouldn’t know that by how fast he paces up and down the court during games. Bill Self has a long way to go in his career (just 51 years old), but after disappointing, early-round exits in recent NCAA Tournaments, despite having premium NBA talent (Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins), how safe is his job? Especially if Stevens becomes available.
Well, I will argue: Why not return to Butler? Yep, you read that correctly: why not return to Butler?
There is absolutely no way to sugarcoat this past season. It was one of the worst for Butler basketball in recent memory. The team finished 14-17–good enough for 9th in the ten-team conference. 9th place out of ten teams. This wasn’t the big, bad Big East, either. This Big East was beatable from top to bottom, and yet, the Bulldogs managed just four wins in 18 chances. Three of Stevens’ last four Butler recruits (Berry, Brown, Castro) have decided to transfer, despite some of them likely guaranteed quality minutes next season. Three other players (two on scholarship) have decided to transfer as well.
Butler athletics officials won’t publicly say it, but the program under Brandon Miller is in a state of flux right now–both on the court and off the court. Defense, a Butler staple, was non-existent at times during the 2013-2014 season. Off the court, the amount of team rules that were broken had to be a new record for the program. Would this have happened under Stevens? I’d venture a guess by saying a resounding “no.” The move to the Big East was a bold one and no one said it was going to be easy, but this past season didn’t instill much confidence into the Butler basketball community.
Despite numerous dark clouds hovering over the program’s future, there have been some bright spots as well. Miller landed pretty highly-regarded recruits, Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman (but what about Trevon Blueitt or possibly Trey Lyles?). Former McDonald’s All-American Tyler Lewis has transferred to Butler and will be available for two years starting with the 2015-2016 season. Former IU guard Austin Etherington will be eligible immediately. Finally, and probably most importantly, Hinkle Fieldhouse is getting much-needed renovations to bring its facilities up to par for its student-athletes and its fans.
Stevens has his dream job right now with the Celtics, but if that opportunity is taken from him as early as next season, how could he pass up the opportunity of returning to a new and improved “home”? Sure, Stevens would have to take a substantial pay cut to come back “home,” but the money hasn’t stopped him before. Back in 2000, he had a well-paying job at Eli Lilly and Company when he left for an unpaid assistant coaching position at Butler, and that was before he had at least $10 million already in his pocket. Stevens always said he couldn’t leave Butler for another university, and at this point, this is still true. Though his stance has likely changed given his current situation, he could still prove this to be true.
Thus, this entire situation is completely hypothetical and though unlikely, stranger things have most definitely happened. Plus, once back “home,” Stevens would have “no problems finding a babysitter.”
Until next time…
You can find me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or @ButlerCupofJoe